1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Gray

Anonymous, "Description of the Monument erected to the Memory of the celebrated Poet, Mr. Thomas Gray, in Westminster Abbey" New London Magazine 7 (September 1791) 420-21.



The design and masterly execution of this simple, yet elegant monument, does great honour to the genius of the celebrated artist, Mr. BACON. It consists of a tablet of dark grey marble, about three feet high, and nearly the same breadth, on which is placed a beautiful figure of Melpomene, executed in white marble, supporting with one hand the bust of Mr. Gray, and with the other pointing to the regions of immortality to which his spirit has soared. On the pediment are sculptured the following lines,

No more the Grecian muse unrivall'd reigns:
To Britain let the nations homage pay,
She felt a Homer's fire in Milton's strains,
A Pindar's rapture in the lyre of Gray.

This monument is placed in the Poet's Corner, next to that of Edmond Spenser, styled, in his time, the Prince of Poets.

A SKETCH OF THE CHARACTER OF MR. GRAY, AUTHOR OF THE ELEGY IN A COUNTRY CHURCH-YARD, &C.

The great and universal fame which Mr. Gray acquired by the few, but very excellent poetical pieces which he published, and which, both for pathetic, and sublime sentiment and expression, with uncommon elegance and correctness, may be ranked with the elegiac, and lyric productions of any age or country, has rendered him an important character in the literary world. It may indeed be observed, that his poetry was in so superior a stile, that it could be relished only by the few, whose taste is exquisite, and whose minds are cultivated to a high degree.

Perhaps he was the most learned man in Europe. He was equally acquainted with the elegant and profound parts of science, and not superficially but thoroughly. He knew every branch of history, both natural and civil; had read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; and was a great antiquarian. Criticism, metaphysicks, morals, politics, made a principal part of his plan of study; voyages and travels of all sorts were his favourite amusement; and he had a fine taste in painting, prints, architecture, and gardening. With such a fund of knowledge, his conversation must have been equally instructing and entertaining; but he was also a good man, a well-bred man, a man of virtue and humanity. There is no character without some speck, some imperfection; and we th ink the greatest defect in his was affectation in delicacy, or rather effeminacy, and a visible fastidiousness, or contempt and disdain of his inferiors in science. He also had in some degree that weakness which disgusted Voltaire so much in Mr. Congreve: though he seemed to value others, chiefly according to the progress they had made in knowledge; yet he could not bear to be considered himself merely as a man of letters, and though without birth or fortune, or station, his desire was to be looked upon as a private independent gentleman, who read for his amusement. Perhaps it may be said, What signifies so much knowledge, when it produced so little? It is worth taking so much pains to leave no memorial but a few poems? but let it be considered that Mr. Gray was to others, at least innocently employed; to himself, certainly beneficially. His time passed agreeably; he was every day making some new acquisition in sciences; his mind was enlarged, his heart softened, his virtue strengthened; the world and mankind were shewn to him without a mask; and he was taught to consider every thing as trifling, and unworthy of the attention of a wise man, except the pursuit of knowledge, and the practice of virtue, in that state wherein God hath placed him.